Wednesday, June 24, 2015

It Ends

It ends.
The moment is gone,
the next is here.

Now that one too,
has departed from the world.
As gone as the oldest star,
as distant as the foreign galaxies.

It always ends.


For much of my life I thought it would be amazing to visit another planet. In the strangest of ways, Australia whittled away that longing. The new millennium has brought talk about people wanting to live on Mars, but I really can't agree with that desire. To visit is one thing, but to move permanently is another. Mars could never be home to anyone except for the children that are born there (someday there will likely be people born on Mars from parents who have moved from Earth). Honestly, why would anyone want to move to such a remote place for a few weeks of excitement followed by a lifetime of boredom and loneliness? As much as Australia looks like Mars on a map, it fortunately exists on the same planet as each of us. And unlike Mars, Adelaide is the opposite of isolated. I wasn't miserable there for even a second. But it's not home.

Everything I've learned in Australia thus far, from academics, to social relationships, to cultural nuances will all stay with me for the remainder of my life. My guess is that most, if not all other UND students that have gone off on exchange can agree with me on this one: the cities around the world we've been to are all more enjoyable to live in than Grand Forks, North Dakota. But what we need to keep in mind is that if it weren't for Grand Forks, if it weren't for UND, we would have never gotten the chance to know that. And for that, I will never be able to thank the University of North Dakota enough.

When I first arrived in Australia, I was effectively a ghost. Living on the outside, knowing no one. But after spending enough time in Adelaide, everything started to become eerily familiar. I created an entire life on my own, separate from everything I've ever known. That's scary. Not many people I know that are my age have done that yet, and I'm not sure if some of them even could. By the end of my stay, I could hardly walk down the street without running into someone I knew or recognized. On my bike, for instance, I would come across places that I not only remembered, but could trace exactly back to where I lived. Places that I knew from one angle were rediscovered from other perspectives, filling the gaps in my own internal map of the world.

Nothing is the same anymore. The places around Adelaide that were once mysterious to me are now everyday sights of life.

Earth is an amazing planet. It is filled with odds an ends and too many places to discover than time in any one person's life. But if you ever get the chance to travel, make it a useful experience. Don't let others or the media define your perspective of the world. Go and find out for yourself. And if you don't like to travel, that's okay too. This might be an unpopular statement, but I'll say it anyways: disregard those telling you that you should go out of your comfort zone. If you want to, it's your choice. And just because you do, doesn't automatically mean that your life will be happier or more enlightened than it is already. The truth is, you can remain in your comfort zone nearly your whole life and live quite happily and comfortably. Then again, if you do choose to venture out, there's an entire world of possibilities out there that have the potential of making your life more interesting, exciting and enriching. But it ultimately doesn't matter which one you choose. Even if you stay in your comfort zone, someone else could enter into your life because they stepped outside their own comfort zone, making your life better or worse. And if you're the one that steps out, maybe you end up missing out on other benefits in life because you were gone doing other things.

What I'm trying to say is that there's no perfect advice, no sayings to go by that for sure, 100 percent make people's lives better. Life is a series or randomly interlinked events that could turn your way or the other with absolutely no certain predictability. Sure, maybe you decide to go out with your friends on a Saturday to have a really great time, and you do. But in another reality, say you tell your friends you're tired and don't want to go out. Say you stay home for the night, and realize you're hungry for ice cream. Say you go to the grocery store to pick out some ice cream, and as you're heading out the door you drop your wallet in the parking lot and someone picks it up for you. Say that the person who picks up your wallet turns out to be the love of your life. It is not likely, but it is absolutely possible.

Discovery is like the cold on a Minnesotan winter morning. You can't hide from it. The world is out there to discover, but at the same time we're out there too, and regardless of where we are or what we decide to do, the world is constantly discovering each of us. And if you're reading this and think you missed out on Australia, you didn't. Because even though Australia provided me with a once in a lifetime experience, maybe it was I that missed out on life back home. Maybe it was I that missed out on the rest of the world. Maybe it was I that missed out on going to the grocery store. Maybe it was I that missed out on you.


It's now one of my first few days back, and I'm at my dentist's office in St. Paul. After he finishes with my teeth, I get on my bike and decide to take a slight detour on the way home. I decide to go through Como Park. As I zoom down Lexington and make my way through the parklands, Conservatory, and Pavilion, a familiar thought, a thought I've known all my life crosses my mind. I realize that although some things have changed about this place, all in all, it's essentially the same. It's still the same neighborhood I've lived in and loved my whole life. It still doesn't get any better than this. After spending enough time living in this neighborhood, it's become much more than just a place. Really, it's no longer even place at all; it's my memories.

I don't view the world the same way an average park visitor does. I'm riding down Como Avenue now, but it's not merely a sidewalk that I see alongside the road. I see my 12 year old self and his friends, walking back to his house after a day at the old Como Pool. I make my way around Como Lake and pass the pavilion, but it's not merely a waterfall that I see across from the building. No, I see my 8 year old self in the plunge pool jumping from rock to rock, suddenly fleeing from the onslaught of down-pouring rain. Finally, I find myself at the East of end of the lake, but instead of making the final turn down Victoria Street, I take a right onto Maryland, going past my house, high school, and place of work. And there he is again, my young self. I can see him now, there's so many of him. He's walking home from high school. He's rollerblading to work. He's playing baseball with his brothers at the elementary school. I've only lived for two decades and the past is already starting to spook me. Because even my memories aren't memories anymore. They are there right in front of me, dancing and embracing, singing and smiling at me.

It's hard to say how much any of us really know about love, but what I know is that it's anything but superficial. You wouldn't love someone that has a negative impact on your life or a terrible personality, no matter how good looking or infatuating they may be. And the same goes for a place. I don't just love places like Adelaide, Como Park and more because they're beautiful. I love them because they have character. I love them because of the invaluable memories we've shared together. I love them because no matter where I find myself in life, I can always go back to them and smile.

For a long time, I've searched for a name to describe my love for where I live. "Topophilia" works well enough, a word that translates from Greek to literally mean "love of place". But then that got me thinking. Is it as simple as me deciding to love this place? Is love a decision? Or could it be that this place has loved me all along? After all, I never had a say in the location of my birth. I couldn't find a better term until years later, when I discovered an obscure song by MGMT, called "Love Always Remains". It's a relatively pleasant song, but the title itself is what really speaks volumes. As straightforward as that simple phrase seems to be, it's really not. The term "love always remains" does not actually mean that one's love for something always remains. Love doesn't necessarily last forever. What it's really saying is that when something lasts forever, it's love. And that's the beauty of it all. A place will never break your heart. A place will never fall out of love with you. People change, but places don't. If you truly love a place, it will love you back forever.


Adelaide, South Australia
February 2015 - June 2015
To my parents, for putting me in the right place

Friday, June 12, 2015

"Happiness only real when shared" reads the closing line of Christopher McCandless' adventure journal, written moments before death in the Alaskan wilderness. His story is famously captured in Jon Krakauer's "Into the Wild", and one of the many questions readers may have, is why is that phrase so important? Is any sort of happiness incurred alone thereby fake? The book, it appears, suggests this very notion. Krakuer does a wonderful job interpreting McCandless's journal, communicating to the reader how important it is to share memories with others. When McCandless wrote his final few words, he was starving, exhausted, and most likely quite lonely. His life alone amongst the wild at that point seems like a waste. It failed to be what he imagined, and the happiness he found there became futile because he had no one to share it with. But are memories always better when experienced with other people? Is happiness only real when shared?

Absolutely not.

A few entries ago, in my post titled "My Australian Girlfriend", I outline my solo venture to Adelaide's Outer Harbour, and how truly splendid everything about that journey was. (by now, hopefully, it has been established that I don't actually have a girlfriend.) But perhaps most peculiar of all is how I managed to have such a grand time completely alone. If I had to be classified, I would fall closer to the introvert side of the spectrum, but it's always more complex than that. Individuality is not about the black and white facts of nature so much as it is about the gray area in between. Different situations evoke different aspects of our personalities, so to appoint it with a single moniker never does any justice. Regardless, I find confidence in knowing that I can have a good time all by myself. I've found that the people I've met that can do this as well are the ones I gravitate towards most.

A couple weeks ago, on a whim, I decided to go to Perth by myself. One night, I walked north of my accommodation just to see where it would take me. I encountered numerous sights that took me off the beaten path, but Hyde Park in particular proved most memorable. It was about 11 pm by the time I got there. Despite being only a couple kilometers away from the city centre, not a person could be found. Hyde Park contains two small ponds, divided by a land bridge in the center, encompassed by a larger walking path. Normally I would walk around at a moderate pace, but in Hyde Park, the sights from the path prove too intriguing to do so. Ducks meander their way throughout the ponds and into the shadowy islands within. Black Swans contently stretch out along the shores. A kitten streaks by, disappearing into the night seconds later. Statues, sculptures, gazebos, and informational recordings give the park life even when no one else wants to. Perhaps strangest of all, are the random exercise equipment scattered about the path, bolted into the ground. Here, the city of Perth provides safe instruction as to how to use the equipment, as well as healthy eating habits. I actually laughed out loud a few times. I didn't walk around the ponds so much as I danced, thanks to my ipod-delivered music. I sat amongst the birds and watched the stars with a smile on my face. Somewhere in Perth, perhaps minutes away, a party must have been going on. Faces upon faces of people appearing and disappearing, striving for relevancy, for meaning. But in the midst of all that, another ongoing party was happening right there in Hyde Park — a party within my head. And no one else was invited.

When spending time alone, there are always going to be moments of sad realisation relating to how no one else can share the same memories. I can never ask anyone, "hey do you remember that one time in Perth…" except myself. But the idea of happiness only being real when shared puzzles me. Some of my happiest moments in life occur when I am completely alone. Likewise, many more of these moments happen alongside other people. But can anyone on earth share my exact same memories? Are any of them quite like me? Of course not. And that's precisely why, in addition to those close to me, there is a tremendous amount of love that I have for myself. That's why, when I wake up each morning and look into the mirror, it's not just my own reflection that I see. I see my best friend.

To fully accept and be at peace with oneself is of the most essential aspects of living, though unfortunately for some this requires more effort than others to achieve. No matter how valuable the connections you have with other people may be, none are as important as the relationship you have with yourself. Not a single person in the entire universe will ever be as close to you as you are with your own being. If at first you don't love yourself, it becomes immensely difficult to love anyone at all.

Monday, June 8, 2015



As a student to the aviation industry, I've been picking up on a lot of marketing techniques airlines use. Somewhat unsurprisingly, I've noticed that they're all pretty much the same. Cheap fares, gourmet food, top amenities, etc. They're not advertising travel, they're advertising comfort. They're advertising a chance for people to "get away" from their mundane lives. Que the United Airlines billboard:

Is this what people dream about these days? Getting away? I can picture it now: someone stuck in traffic on the way to their day job, looking up at that billboard and dreaming of somewhere far away, of sunny weekends and no work. Aviation, arguably, is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, invention of all time. When combined with telecommunications, aviation has globalized the world in ways that were unimaginable just a century ago. But ads like the one above are geared towards those who live for the weekend and slouch through the week. Ads like this remind me of why I'm attracted to a varied work schedule. Why should we go through life hating Mondays? If others think we were put on earth to work the same five days each week from 9 to 5 every day until they day we die, hats off to them. But I think life is much more than that. There are days we work, and days we don't. And both should be wonderful in their own unique ways. I don't care if I get work off on a Wednesday or a Saturday; just don't lull my life into a sense of monotony.

In fact, every day when I take the train out of the city towards Mawson Lakes for class, I see the exact type of people that United Airlines target with their billboards. I see hoards of businessmen and businesswomen unloading off the train, coming from the suburbs and going to work in the city. They're all dressed up. Their clothes look good, some of their faces look good. But the expressions on nearly all of them? Bleak. The way they walk? Hasty. As if they're late for that same thing they do every other day of the week. And there I am, taking the train the opposite way. On a spacious, comfortable train headed away from the crowd. Different from everyone else.

That aside, I bring up the subject of airline marketing because in the following story, I am about to utilize one of these airlines to get from Adelaide, Australia, to Christchurch, New Zealand. Let it begin...


Aviation is fantastic because it provides rapid transportation over vast distances. But it's where we go after the luggage carousel that makes everything worthwhile; the places airplanes cannot reach. Upon arriving in New Zealand's South island, we rented a car and set off for the various sites it has to offer. Beginning in Christchurch, we essentially circled the island by heading north along the East Coast, West along the North coast, South along the West Coast, then turning back East in the center and back to Christchurch. What I noticed, quite curiously, is that the greatest places we discovered could only be found on foot. No cars, boats, planes, or even helicopters could safely land on the mountains we scaled. And none of them would ever be seen on the bike path leading us to the serene grandeur of Lake Wanaka.

You know that feeling you get when you're so exhausted that you don't really want to talk to anyone? That's how I felt after arriving back in Adelaide from New Zealand. It's not like I was annoyed or crabby, I simply didn't feel awake enough to adequately listen to whomever spoke with me. My three hours of sleep left me so tired that I forgot about doing simple things that would make me less tired, like taking my backpack off while sitting down.

In order to get back to my residence from the airport, I needed to take the bus. So I sat down next to the airport bus stop, and after almost getting on the wrong bus twice, decided I needed to review the different routes. Hand on head, backpack still on back, I leaned to the side and noticed a familiar sign beaming in the afternoon sun. Despite my contempt for advertisements, this particular ad displayed to me a very conflicting, yet strangely comforting phrase...

It's funny, really. This idea of home. Australia is not my home, but as soon as a trip to New Zealand is involved, suddenly it is. I've developed a new life here in Adelaide, and once that life is put on hold for 10 days, everything other than Adelaide is a vacation, and Adelaide becomes home base. A journey within a journey. A round trip flight within a round trip flight.

So when I looked up at this billboard presented by Australia's flag carrier, I couldn't help but smile. I knew the simple phrase it conveyed was wrong, but at the time it felt so right. It was the two words I needed to hear most.

Qantas. Welcome home.